(The Center Square) – A federal magistrate issued a report and recommendation to a district court judge, calling for a preliminary injunction against the California community college system’s diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility mandate for hiring, training and evaluating professors.
Under the new regulations, faculty must “promote and incorporate DEI and anti-racist pedagogy, participate in training to incorporate culturally affirming pedagogy, use data to uncover inequitable outcomes, and articulate the importance and impact of DEI and anti-racism as part of the institution’s greater mission.” Faculty must also “lead DEI and anti-racist efforts by participating in DEI groups, include DEI and race-conscious pedagogy and/or curriculum and in campus activities, and introduce new employees to the institution and system’s focus on DEI and anti-racism.
Plaintiff Daymon Johnson, a full-time history professor at Bakersfield College, contends that the state community college systems’ new rules for performance evaluations and tenure reviews make him fear to speak his mind lest he risk losing his job. He’s seeking protection for himself and to “prevent officials from demanding that faculty advance and teach the state’s official DEIA ideology.”
“I refrain from expressing my political views and from freely participating in the intellectual life of the college for fear that Defendants will investigate, discipline, and ultimately terminate my employment on the basis of my political views,” said Johnson in the case file.
The federal magistrate, who is reviewing the case so a district judge (a lower level judge than a magistrate judge) can accept, reject, or modify the recommendations, appears to have largely agreed with the arguments presented by Johnson and his legal team at the Institute for Free Speech.
“California’s goal of promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in public universities does not give it the authority to invalidate protected expressions of speech,” wrote Magistrate Judge Christopher D. Baker. “The undersigned concludes Plaintiff is likely to prevail,” and “the State’s interest in imposing the DEIA regulations and the DEI Competencies and Criteria Recommendations do not outweigh Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights.”
Johnson helped found a college-sanctioned organization of faculty members called the Renegade Institute for Liberty, which “aims to promote and preserve freedom of thought and intellectual literacy through the open discourse of diverse political ideas with an emphasis on American ideals and western historical values” and ran its Facebook page. In 2021, Johnson posted via RIFL’s Facebook page: “Here’s what one critical race theorist at BC sounds like. Do you agree with this radical SJW from BC’s English Department? Thoughts?” with the post from another professor, who said, “Maybe Trump’s comment about shithole countries was a statement of projection because honestly, the US is a fucking piece of shit nation. Go ahead and quote me, conservatives.”
As a result, Johnson was investigated for “harassment and bullying.” Soon after Johnson was issued his complaint for harassment and bullying, RIFL faculty lead and fellow Matthew Garret was allegedly fired for delivering an on-campus lecture called, “The Tale of Two Protests: Free Speech and the Intellectual Origins of BC Campus Censorship.” The college’s dean asserted Garret’s claim “that certain terms like ‘Cultural Marxism’ weren’t ‘hate speech’ but instead speech that challenges a dominant agenda on campus, i.e. the social justice movement,” constituted “unprofessional conduct,” leading to his termination.
After Garret’s firing, the college president sent a holiday email Johnson alleges was aimed at intimidating him and RIFL that said, “We must not allow the discontent or views of a few to supersede what we are required to provide at our college and the work that we have intentionally developed to support all members of the community.”
As a result, the judge recommended that Johnson be granted a partial preliminary injunction preventing the college from “investigating, disciplining, or terminating” him “based on the content or viewpoint of Plaintiff’s proposed social and/or political speech, exercised in his personal capacity and through his teaching and academic writing” and not evaluate him according to the new DEIA-focused faculty performance criteria.
Johnson and the college have 14 days to object to portions of the report via new briefs. Those briefs along with the report will be submitted to the federal district court judge, who will issue a final decision.